Q&A: Greg Gleason headlines ‘Masters of Illusion’

Rehearsals are underway for the new “Masters of Illusion” magic show set to open Dec. 6 at Bally’s, reviving the shuttered ”Jubilee” theater vacant since the dancers left there after a near 35-year run in February 2016. The new production is America’s largest touring magic show and comes from the hit CW television series that stars the world’s greatest award-winning magicians.

Producers claim the magic created live on stage will feature jaw-dropping grand illusions and with 21st century trickery unlike anything we’ve seen before. They claim that the experience will feature fantasy, fervor and flair that just can’t be done. Or, can it? In the six years the “Masters of Illusion” series has been on CW TV network over 100 million American viewers and fans in 126 different worldwide countries have witnessed the unbelievable, unexplained.

The cast will feature Chris Randall, Farrell Dillon, Jason Bird and Las Vegas star Tommy Wind, who has his own magic theater adjoining the MGM Grand. Greg Gleason of Las Vegas will headline the show, which has an initial six-month residency with renewable options .

Greg has headlined the Las Vegas Strip at both The Venetian and MGM with over 9,000 performances of “Embrace the Mystery” and “The Wizard’s Secrets” and starred in eight national tours of “Masters of Illusion.” It was a television special by the late magician Doug Henning that inspired him to take up the craft. As a 13-year-old practicing magic in his home he went on to be named Illusionist of the Year by the International Magician’s Society.

Here’s Gregg’s split woman zig zag illusion:

And, here’s his amazing levitation sequence:

Q: With Criss Angel, David Copperfield, Mat Franco, David Goldrake, Mac King, Nathan Burton, Raja & Jarrett, Murray Sawchuck, Xavier Mortimer all holding down residency shows here I just had to ask Greg how “Masters of Illusion” will be set apart from its competitors.

A: All the other ones are mainly just one magician performing the show, and this is the top picks from the TV show that’s been running for the last four years, and a lot of the top illusions that have appeared on that show in the last four years, plus a lot of special one that are being specially created just for the show.

Here’s the YouTube video of Greg and Farrell Dillon mixing and matching their assistants, Stacey and Erika cut in half by saws simultaneously:

Q: Let’s talk about two things that you have done on the TV show that are advancing the cause of magic. First, is the sawing through the body of the girl. As wood breaks, and then you show that the blade went right through, rather than pulling it out to show it was a blade. She has to get up so that you can get it off of her. The other one is: the girl in eight pieces in the box, and the body parts zig-zag left and right. Both of those seem to be advances of previous illusions. Do you agree?

A: Exactly. And, they are. The one where I cut the girl into eight pieces, I actually debuted that illusion in 2002 at my show at The Venetian. That was the first time for that to actually appear in a show. The one where I use a 36-inch buzz saw that cuts the wood in half and goes right through her body is an updated version of a classic. Gabe and Harry Blackstone Jr. did in their Broadway show, and did on the road. It’s a classic piece that’s just been brought up to date with a real blade going right through her. We take a lot of precautions because that is a real blade and will cut through any piece of wood. The magic is getting the person not to move. There’s a lot of precautions on that. We rehearse that a lot to make sure that looks exactly right.

Q: Now Doug Henning was a remarkable magician with incredible spiritual beliefs that were magical. I featured him on “Lifestyles” back in the day. How was he your inspiration?

A: I was in junior high when he started on Broadway. And, then I was watching his TV specials. I had been exposed to magic a little bit, but then when I saw him I could really relate to him. He wasn’t a magician in a top hat and tails running around. He brought it up to date because magic was pretty much dead at that point. It was still done in night clubs and things like that, but it wasn’t mainstream like it was during the Houdini days, during the golden age of magic in the 1920s, and the 1930s, and it had just disappeared. And all of a sudden, 1975 Doug’s special just brought it right back to mainstream and made it cool again. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

I moved out here to Las Vegas in 1993 when the MGM opened. (I debuted) a show called “Wizard Secrets.” It was a specially built theater in the MGM for a magic show. Magic has had its ups and downs, and I think it’s right back at the top again. Criss has his show, doing great over at The Luxor; and David Copperfield is doing great at the MGM. David Goldrake is over at The Tropicana; and Matt King has been going strong; and Nathan Burton, and Raja just opened at The Stratosphere.

When I moved here in the 1990s,magic was at its peak, and I think it quieted down for a while. Now, I think it’s climbed right back up again. Living in Las Vegas with all the magic shows we kind of feel a little jaded about it. We’ve seen it all. But here’s what I see. I’ve been touring with “Masters of Illusion.” I’ve done their last nine national tours, and some of their international tours. What amazes me are the audiences — when we’re touring, when we’re in Florida, Texas, the Midwest or even in New York and Connecticut, “Masters of Illusion” sells out every theater we go to. And, what’s amazing is it’s all ages. It’s grandparents all the way down to grand kids.

It’s an entertainment where David Copperfield had the market when he was traveling all over the world, constantly touring. But since he set up residency at the MGM it just left a huge void for the last 15 years. “The Illusionists” have been touring, and our “Masters of Illusion,” too, and both groups have been selling out everywhere because it’s just great family entertainment. The touring show of “Masters” will continue while we are in residency here.

The public all across the world loves magic. Another Vegas magician, Jeff McBride, and I just came back from our own tour called “Las Vegas Magic Stars” in Asia, and we were selling out everywhere in arenas. We were doing shows in Shenzhen — a project Jeff and I had been working on for almost three years, and it’s similar to “Masters of Illusion” or “The Illusionists,” but we call it “The Las Vegas Magic Stars.” That way they knew exactly what they were getting. Jeff’s a great magician and a great teacher and a really good friend. We had a great time over there. Despite On Demand TV and YouTube, seeing it live is completely different. People are still coming out. Every time we’re doing shows on the road we’re selling out.

Q: From an entertainer’s viewpoint, when you perform a piece of magic, in a sense you’re doing it by rote. But is there wonder for you as the audience opens its mouth in disbelief?

A: All the time. And you know, going back to Doug Henning, he sensed that wonder all the time. There are some illusions that I do and it’s just amazing to watch the audience’s reaction because — again when you see it on TV you go, “Oh, that could be trick photography, that could be something else.” But when you see it live it is amazing to see the wonder on everyone’s face. And it might not even be a big illusion, it might be something small and just a really good story that goes along with the smaller piece that has an emotional touch that people in the audience can really relate to.

Q: What is it about magic for you as a performer? Is it that moment with the audience? Do you ever get amazed at the trick itself?

A: I’m amazed all the time. I think that’s why I love it so much. My act is constantly growing and changing, and I’m always adding new illusions or new smaller pieces, just because I love performing it.

Q: Do you have a favorite illusion in “Masters of Illusion?”

A: One of my favorites I created this when I was working on a cruise ship about seven years ago. I make a full-sized helicopter appear onstage. And, the stage is fully lit. And, it’s away from all curtains and backdrops. And, it happens so fast that I love performing it because just the gasp from the audience.

They’re absolutely amazed. When you hear 1,500 people go, “Aah.” I love that moment every time in the show.

Q: David Copperfield once told me there are only seven pieces of magic. You know, you’re familiar with the seven. So, things appear, things disappear, things float, things fall, whatever the seven are. Can a magician go past seven? Is there something that hasn’t yet been done?

A: No. I think those are the seven things, and they’re all gonna be some kind of variation on that. It’s making things appear, disappear, transpositions. Like a mutilation, cutting something and restoring it. A mind reading, is basically one thing. Illusion is sort of luckier because what we can do, even though we might be sawing a girl in half — we can maybe do two or three different versions of that in one show that look completely different.

Q: What do you think is the future of magic?

A: That’s a good question. Technology is changing But you know what, I’ve read books in the 1950s, where they said: “Technology’s changing, it’s gonna destroy magic.” But it still hasn’t. I think magicians are always on the edge of technology and using it to produce a better effect. There is no substitute for sleight-of-hand. When I work — besides doing “Masters of Illusion” I’ll go out on a cruise ship and I’ll do a show for a 1,200-seat theater with a deck of cards for an hour, and get a standing ovation every single time. People can just sit there and realize that there is no trick — just pure skill. So, that will never change. If you can look at the stuff David Blaine does, you know he pushes the envelope all of the time, and I think there’s always gonna be magicians doing that.

Q: Is it tougher to do sleight-of-hand with cards than it is to do illusions?

A: They’re completely different things. Sleight-of-hand is pure skill with your hands, and then when you’re doing illusions it’s theater. You’re dealing with not only the mechanics of doing the trick, but you’re also dealing with assistants, and lighting, staging, costuming and choreography. So many different element go into that, so it’s apples and oranges. To the audience it’s all magic, but it’s just different skill sets.

Q: What do you think “Masters of Illusion” is going to do for magic on the Strip?

A: I think it’s gonna give tourists a different feel of a magic show. Instead of going to see one performer, they’ll get to see five performers in the same amount of time. The cast is going to rotate. Being one of the performers I don’t know exactly when people will come in and out of the show, but everyone is different. Everyone has their own specialty. Some people will be doing more sleight-of-hand. Some will be specializing more in comedy magic. There’s probably always going to be two illusionists, which I’ll be doing one of the illusionist roles, and there will probably be a second illusionist. Then a comedy magician, a sleight-of-hand person.

Q: Is it exciting to be back on the Strip with a show like this?

A: It really is. Vegas has changed. When I got here in 1993, it was a completely different game out here. It’s changed a lot since 1993, but I’m really looking forward to — instead of having to tour all over the country and all over the world — to actually be able to come home, sleep in my own bed for six months.

Q: Greg, is there one illusion that you’ve been working on for a year or more that you want to make happen, and it’s still confounding even you?

A: I’ve had so many illusions in my notebooks that I want to finally be able to sit down and finish, and I think this will give me an opportunity to do that. I had one that was almost ready to go to China, but we just didn’t get it done in time and I’m talking to Gabe Blackstone right now. Hopefully, it will go in the show here. It’s a great piece that’s never been seen anywhere before. So, it would be fun to do.

Actually I have two of those. One’s ready to go, and one’s not quite ready to go. So, that’s another advantage of being at home, I can get these projects that I’ve been working on for a long time ready to go, and now I have a venue to be able to put them in right away. One of them, it’ll be similar to the Houdini trunk trick, but it will be in a glass box, and there will be a lot of surprises involved in it.

Tickets are on sale now for “Masters of Illusion,” which will run nightly at Bally’s Wednesday through Monday starting Dec. 6.

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